What could be feared more than death?
Apparently, for some people, it is public speaking!
The fear of public speaking has its own term: glossophobia.
You might understand this fear if you are an English language learner who has ever had to give a speech or presentation in English.
It is hard enough in your own language, let alone a foreign one!
But you might not be able to avoid speaking English in public, so you may as well learn to get over the fear.
Luckily, it will be easier than you think.
In this article, we will share five techniques to prepare you for inspiring, confident public speaking in English.
What Are the Components of a Successful Speech?
Any speech you might need to make, from a business presentation to a personal introduction in front of new classmates, requires more than just the spoken words. Great public speaking typically also comprises three core types of communication: physical, visual and the story.
- Physical: This includes your English body language and sometimes the environment that you choose to give your presentation in. It tells listeners how confident you are about the topic and how approachable you will be if they have any questions.
For example, facing the audience with a smile and a straight posture will help you seem confident and friendly, making the audience more likely to listen to and trust your speech. Many people tend to overlook this aspect while preparing for their public speech, but physical communication can leave a long-lasting impression on the audience.
- Visual: This includes pictures, charts and graphs, PowerPoint slides—any visual element that reinforces your speech and helps your audience follow along. You can either use a slideshow projected on a screen or bring physical objects to the stage with you.
- Story: The story is the core of your speech. It involves both the words you say and their emotional content—so it determines your physical and visual communication, too.
For example, if you are telling an inspirational story, your facial expression should be uplifting rather than serious. Similarly, if you present the business results of the first quarter, your visuals should probably include graphs and charts but not photographs.
5 Techniques to Achieve Public Speaking Perfection in English
1. Learn Key English Phrases for Speeches
It is terrifying when you have to give a talk in front of a group of people in a foreign language. Besides the standard concerns like, “What if I am too boring” or “What if my mind goes blank,” you have an extra worry: the language barrier.
By memorizing these key phrases, you have a set of tools to keep your speech on track. Whenever you start to feel nervous, just use one of these phrases to add some structure to your speech. As long as you rehearse them very well, retrieving them in critical moments will be effortless and you will be amazed how that smooth operation will help with your confidence.
You can even record yourself saying these phrases. If possible, get feedback from other people regarding the recordings.
Here are some phrases for different stages of a presentation.
Warm up by thanking the audience:
It is always difficult to start a public talk as the audience is not always totally focused. Some people might be distracted because they came in a bit late, others might let their mind wander as they do not know what to expect. Do not launch into your content immediately, but start with getting the full attention of the audience.
You can use one of the following phrases to warm up and thank your listeners:
- Thank you all for being here today.
- I’m happy to see you all today.
- It’s my honor that you are joining me for this presentation.
Introduce your topic or the reason for your speech:
After thanking the audience, signify that you are starting your talk with one of these phrases.
- Let me begin with…
- I’d like to start by telling you about…
- Today I am going to present…
Interact with the audience:
Though it is your stage, you should not just talk for the whole time. Invite the audience to ask questions, give feedback and provide comments. That is a great way to keep them engaged. Here are some phrases to give space for audience interaction, at specific moments or throughout your speech:
- Before I move on, does anyone have any questions?
- I’d like to pause now and give you an opportunity to respond.
- Please feel free to raise your hand if you have a question at any point during my talk.
Make sure you address their opinions, even if they are different from yours. Here are some phrases you can use in such a situation.
- I hear what you are saying, but let me draw your attention to…
- Would you like to explain more about…
- Are there any other comments about this point before I give my response?
Close the presentation:
Do not forget to thank the audience again before finishing your speech. Use one of the following expressions:
- Thank you all for your time and attention.
- With that, I want to wrap up (end) my presentation. Thank you for listening.
- I’d like to end my presentation here. Thanks for coming and if you have any more questions, I’d be happy to answer them afterward.
2. Master the Art of Storytelling
Why are we waiting so eagerly for the next season of “Game of Thrones” or crying when we read “The Hunger Games?”
It is all about the story. If you want to engage your audience, you will also need to learn the art of storytelling. Even something as dry as a quarter performance review should have a story about how and why those numbers exist.
For example, analyze some great speeches and their story components. Maybe you can start with one of the following:
- Mahatma Gandhi, “Quit India”
- Winston Churchill, “Blood, Toil, Tears and Sweat”
- Martin Luther King Jr., “I Have a Dream”
Of course, storytelling is not something you can learn quickly and master after a couple of hours, but we can help you to understand a good story and apply the principles to your next public speaking event.
Introduce characters and the problem:
You need to introduce the characters of your story and their problem as soon and as clearly as possible. For example, if you present a project to build a new school in remote areas in your country, you should tell your audience about a few children living in such areas and the problems they have due to a lack of formal education. Before diving into how beneficial your project would be, let the audience connect with these children and understand their situation.
Here is an example of what you can say:
“Let’s first meet Ching. She is 10 years old. Every day, instead of going to school like other children her age, Ching goes to the field.”
Explain the plan to solve the problem:
Telling people about a problem is just the beginning. You need to arm your audience with a plan and show them how such a problem could be solved.
By guiding listeners through each step of resolving the issue, you build up momentum and keep them engaged. You can use this structure to describe your plan:
“First, we will [do X]. Then, when [X] is ready, we can follow up with [Y]. Providing that everything goes as planned, after three months, we can start [Z].”
Offer a happy ending:
Why do we keep telling fairy tales?
Because their happy endings bring us hope. You want to give the same feeling to your audience. So, you should explain how your plan or the information in your presentation will help achieve a happy ending for your story.
You can say something like this:
“Based on the statistics, I believe that this plan could work to help the children in need and solve their education problem in the long run.”
3. Learn English Body Language with FluentU
As discussed above, you need to express confidence when you speak in public. Your belief in your own ability and your opinions can be even more evident in the way you hold your body than in your words.
But every culture has different rules for physical communication. If you did not grow up in an English-speaking environment, you might not know which types of body language your audience will respond to.
FluentU is a great tool to quickly learn about this with authentic English videos. FluentU provides real-world English videos—including speeches and lectures as well as movie trailers, YouTube clips, music videos and more—which have been transformed into personalized English lessons.
That means you can watch how native English speakers stand, move and gesture when giving public speeches, without worrying that you will not understand the speech itself. You get interactive captions and can click on any word for an instant definition and visual learning aid. There are also full transcripts, flashcards and fun quizzes to help you actively build your language skills while you watch.
You can get started with videos like this talk by former U.S. President Barack Obama or this award acceptance speech by Oprah Winfrey. As you watch these and other videos, pay particular attention to the following:
- Hand movements
- Eye contact
The videos are organized by genre and learning level, so it is easy to find ones that work for you. You can explore the full library for free with a FluentU trial. When you have watched a speech that resonates with you, record yourself imitating the talk as well as the body language of the speaker. Watch your video and compare it with the original. Which version do you think the audience would prefer?
4. Incorporate Pauses and Stresses
Sometimes you make more of an impression by pausing than speaking. The stops provide breaks within your talk and give the audience time to process your ideas. Sometimes, they also help build up the pressure or release it.
Public speakers, especially comedians, use this technique a lot.
In particular, try to pause:
- After key words and critical ideas
- During transitions from one segment of your speech to another
- After noting something on a chart, graph or other visual
Word stress is another way to give your speech rhythm and help your audience understand. On the flip side, if you ignore stress or put it in the wrong places, it can distract your audience.
To practice this, pick an inspiring English speech and identify the pauses and stressed words or syllables. Record yourself delivering the same speech and compare it with the original. I like doing this exercise with standup comedy performances, as I believe comedians are the masters of pauses and stresses. If you want to try it out, here is a YouTube playlist with popular standup specials for you to choose from.
5. Practice, Practice, Practice
Last but not least: practice makes perfect.
The best way to improve your English public speaking is to practice giving speeches in English in public. You will find out what you struggle the most with, whether it is maintaining dominant body language, crafting a compelling story or something else. You will also find out the situations in which you might have lost the attention of your audience.
Before going to the public, you should also practice at home. If you are going to give a presentation, do it as many times as you can at home, in front of the mirror or a camera. Watch yourself in action or rewatch your speech afterward.
If you record your speech, it might be helpful to get feedback from other people, especially English native speakers. They can point out any problems with your pronunciation and the places that you put word stress. They can also warn you of the body language that might come across negatively to an English-speaking audience.
If you want more public speaking practice before having to do an important speech at work or school, you can join groups like the Toastmasters International or public speaking meetups in your area. You will meet other people who are enthusiastic about public speaking and willing to help you improve your skills.
Public speaking is a great skill to have but not an easy one to master. However, by learning the techniques in this article, you will acquire the tools and gain the confidence for the next time you need to speak before a group of people in English.
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